HC Deb 10 December 1991 vol 200 cc724-5
10. Mr. Latham

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he will make a statement on his replies to representations which he has received regarding the future financing of adult education.

Mr. Eggar

In reply to representations on that matter, my right hon. and learned Friend and I have made it clear that funding will continue to be available from central Government for all types of further education for adults. There is no question of courses being discontinued, or of fees rising, as a result of the Government's reforms.

Mr. Latham

Is my hon. Friend aware that, despite his welcome answer, deep concern is still felt by Leicestershire community colleges—which have a proud and longstanding record of providing adult education—that they will be squeezed out by the new proposals? Will he reconsider the matter in the interests of the widespread rural provision of that essential and popular service?

Mr. Eggar

I am aware of the concern felt by community colleges in Leicestershire, Devon and Cambridgeshire. My right hon. and learned Friend and I met several delegations and held discussions with a number of our right hon. and hon. Friends. We believe that the Further and Higher Education Bill's provisions meet the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham) and by others, and we can categorically reassure those colleges that they have nothing to fear.

Mr. James Lamond

Is the Minister aware of the deep concern felt also by those who attend non-vocational classes in the evenings and at other times who, I am sorry to say, do not believe a word that the Minister says about continuing those classes? They have read earlier statements by the Minister and by the Secretary of State, which convey a completely different point of view.

Mr. Eggar

Before making such statements, the hon. Gentleman should take the time and trouble to read the Further and Higher Education Bill that is going through another place. If he does, he will find that, among other things, it makes no division between vocational and non-vocational adult education. The hon. Gentleman should do his homework.

Mr. Haselhurst

Does my hon. Friend accept that the fears raised in some people's mind by the White Paper have not been entirely quelled by the reassurances that he and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State have given? There is anxiety that there will be rationalisation and that some colleges and available classes in rural areas will cease to exist. Can my hon. Friend the Minister give any reassurances in that respect?

Mr. Eggar

I can reassure my hon. Friend that nothing in the Bill will make that sort of rationalisation necessary. Furthermore, both I and my right hon. and learned Friend have made it clear that we want more education provided locally for adults than is currently available. We believe that the Bill will make that possible.

Mr. Andrew Smith

Why does the Minister think that—as the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) said—those having a close knowledge of adult education, including the voluntary sector, women's institutes and members of the Conservative party, are so deeply unconvinced by the Minister's replies that there were half a million signatures to a petition opposing the Government's proposals? Is it not the case that the decision to split adult education between a further education funding council and local education authorities is a recipe for disaster for an important sector of education, which has already been cut to the bone as a consequence of the Government's failed policies?

Mr. Eggar

In the context of the Bill, we will ensure that more adult education is available locally, and that it is of better quality. That is increasingly being recognised by many interested parties. I wish that the political posturing promoted by the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and by Mr. Stephen Byers in particular would cease.

Mr. Patrick Thompson

Is my hon. Friend aware that, despite what has been said, there is continuing concern in Norfolk—as represented by those involved in Wensum Lodge in Norwich? Will my hon. Friend do all that he can to persuade local authorities to play their full part in ensuring the continuation of adult education?

Mr. Eggar

Undoubtedly, some local education authorities are now spending less on adult education than we think that they should be spending. It is important for those who are rightly keen to ensure the provision of plenty of adult education of an appropriate standard to address their concerns to the education authorities. They should make certain that the authorities are spending a suitable amount on adult education, and that it is available locally as well as centrally.